Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression caused by decreased natural light during the winter months. The constant grey, rain, and snow can all contribute to SAD. There's plenty to enjoy about this time of the year for the lucky ones who don't experience this terrible illness. According to Professor Murray, it is quite rare in Australia, where about 1 in 300 is affected by the illness. Still, awareness is key, and it helps to know what one can do to help ease the symptoms.
Prioritize your sleep
Sleep is essential for good mental health. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, it can lead to sleep problems like insomnia and sleep apnea. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to feel rested and have enough energy throughout the day. If you're having trouble sleeping or waking up too early in the morning, try these tips:
Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends and holidays.
Make sure your bedroom is dark — use blackout curtains or an eye mask when necessary — and keep electronics out of the bedroom if possible so they don't interfere with melatonin production. There are also supplements like GABA that can help you relax and sleep better.
Start a New Exercise Routine or Change Up Your Old One
The winter months are often associated with low energy and fatigue because it's darker outside, and people tend to eat more comforting foods. Exercise can help boost energy levels, improve mood, and feel better overall. Start small by walking around the block once or twice a day or doing easy stretches while watching TV at night. If you're looking for something more intense, try boot camp classes or indoor cycling classes near your home.
You can also change up your old routine. Instead of having to wake up early and exercise in the morning, do the exercise during your lunch break when it’s daylight and not as cold.
If you're not sure where to start, talk with your doctor about what kind of exercise is best for you. Your doctor can also recommend other ways that might work for you.
Reconnect with old friends (and make some new ones)
When you're feeling down, it's easy to withdraw from others and stay home alone. But socializing with friends can help improve your mood because it gives you a chance to get out of the house and interact with people who care about you.
If you haven't seen your friends in a while, now's a great time to reconnect. It would be great to catch up on what they've been up to. You may find that having someone else who understands what you're going through makes it easier to manage your symptoms.
Try Light Therapy
SAD is entirely different from other types of depression and is often confused with regular depression.
Light therapy is a treatment that uses exposure to certain types of light to help relieve symptoms of SAD. Light therapy can be done at home or in a doctor's office, but some people prefer to use special lightboxes made specifically for this type of treatment.
How Does Light Therapy Work?
The idea behind light therapy is simple: when you're exposed to bright artificial light, your brain produces more melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep). So when you use a lightbox, which typically emits 10,000 lux at a distance of 30.48 cm from the eyes, it makes your brain think it's daytime and prompts you to sleep less and wake up earlier than usual.
Light therapy also works by increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a chemical that helps regulate emotions, appetite, and sleep patterns. The increased amount of serotonin helps improve moods and feelings of well-being, which can help reduce symptoms associated with SAD.
Get outside (when you can)
Getting outside is one of the best ways to combat SAD symptoms. When you're stuck indoors all day long, it can be easy to let yourself get down about how dark it is outside — especially when temperatures are cold! But getting outside for even just 15 minutes each day will help increase your exposure to sunlight, which will help boost your mood and energy levels overall.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during the autumn and winter months. It is characterized by depression, lethargy, and weight gain/loss.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have SAD:
Depression: Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness
Lethargy: Feeling tired and lacking energy
Unintentional Weight gain/Weight loss: Eating more than usual or not eating enough
Social withdrawal:Avoiding social situations in which you would normally participate
Things can get more difficult when the days get shorter and the nights turn colder. The sun sets early, but your responsibilities don't. Sometimes that can make for a rough combination. But if you're fighting SAD symptoms and feeling stressed or sad, try some of these activities to help alleviate your condition. Like the season, it should pass, and things should start to look up soon!
Please go to your doctor or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you suspect that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder.